Last night I became involved in a Twitter argument that was not my own. I know I shouldn't have, it's petty and never solves anything but for once I just couldn't help but weigh in. 'Too often I've had to hold my tongue at work,' I thought from the comfort of my sofa. 'Now is my time.'
So why did I bother you might wonder? Why did I let it get to me?
Other than a sorry 6 months working in a BT call centre at 17 the restaurant industry is really all I know. I worked in my local church cafe on the weekends when I was 13 and I've rarely looked back. I've gone from washing dishes to running service in a busy Parisian restaurant to eventually over-seeing the launch of a menu in one of Paris's best coffee shops. I've worked front of house in an AA rosetted restaurant in Scotland and even spent 18 months as a butler on a private estate. I currently help run a cafe in Lancashire which is owned by 2 of my most talented and hardworking friends. If it sounds like I'm bragging, I'm not. Spend 15 years in any industry and unless you're a complete idiot you'll probably end up doing some cool things.
I'm telling you all of this to help you understand what led me to my online explosion. Working with the public is easily the hardest part of my job. 99% of people are wonderful, kind, understanding and appreciative and make me love my job even more. It's the rest that often have me tearing at my thinning hair in disbelief. It will never cease to amaze me what some people think they're entitled to just because they are a customer.
It all started because a table were unhappy with their meal at my friend's restaurant. Instead of attracting the attention of the staff, or even walking the 10ft to the open kitchen, they decided to air their grievances online. Asides from being lazy, this is far more harmful to a small business than you think.
As soon as you grab your phone and start typing that review, you've already decided something. You have no intention of letting them do anything to improve the situation, you just want to have a dig.
Online complaints are generally effective against bigger 'faceless' companies as it allows a direct line to the right person and the public nature of the approach guarantees a quicker response. With small restaurants this is not the case. For a start, you're actually on the premises. The chef is likely to be there too, having worked the previous 10-12 hours preparing for service. Given the amount of work that's put in, they are probably going to be equally, if not more, upset that you haven't enjoyed your meal and will probably do everything to make it right.
It's cruel and leaves your restauranteur with a dilemma. Respond meekly, take the criticism (deserved or otherwise) and hope the customer, the customer's friends, the customer's followers, give them a second chance or risk alienating them all? Either way its a lose/lose. It's hard to refute an opinion written online, for all of Google to see forever.
This might seem a little over the top and maybe you think I'm overly biased toward our humble proprietor so let me say this. He can be an asshole sometimes. I'm an asshole sometimes and yes, even you dear customer, are an asshole sometimes. That's life. We all have off days. He also makes mistakes. Of course he does. We all do. Maybe you did have to wait slightly longer than you would have liked. These things happen. Shouldn't he still have the chance to apologise to your face before you tell the whole world about it? Wouldn't you like that chance?
Small, independent businesses should be the lifeblood of this country. We should be championing these entrepreneurs at every turn. Without them we would have no choice but to frequent the same soulless chains day in, day out.
So the next time you are in a cafe or restaurant and something isn't entirely to your liking try speaking to someone first. You don't like confrontation? Good! Chances are they don't either. I fully believe that they will do whatever they can to make your experience better. And if they don't? Then my friend, twitter is ready and waiting for you. Go wild.
Remember, the customer is always right!